Taking Fire

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By Joe Ragonese

The Discovery Channel has produced a program called “Taking Fire” and is the product of placing helmet cameras on several soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division, stationed in Afghanistan’s Korangal Valley.  The action takes place in 2010, during Obama’s surge.  It was a typical Obama disaster where he pulled out the troops too soon to have any effect.

I do not know if the troops were placed in the position they were because of Obama’s Rules of Engagement or due to some of the worst military planning that I have ever seen.  The platoon is stationed on the valley floor with the stated objective of interdicting the Taliban supply routes.  They are surrounded by mountains on all sides.  A simple look at the terrain surrounding the post, known as COP Michigan, shows that it is exposed on all sides to enemy fire from above, with nowhere to hide.

The troops sit inside the post, like fish in a barrel, and are shot at every day.  They don’t go on patrols to intercept and engage the enemy, which is what they should be doing.  They only sit in COP Michigan and get shot at.  They do go on the roads to patrol, on occasion, but not with the intent to engage the enemy.  They are on the roads to ask locals if they have seen any Taliban, but the only result of that tactic, has been gotten two soldiers killed and one paralyzed from a roadside IED.

I’ve watched three episodes of the show, and today the inevitable happened; a third soldier was killed by an RPG that was fired into the motor pool.  The episode ended when a squad of eight men came under fire while doing a reconnaissance on a hill above their position in an area that was known to be full of sniper holes.  The objective was to pinpoint the sniper holes so they could acquire the coordinates for future artillery strikes, when under fire again from those positions.

In the middle of the episode, a 14 man patrol went deeper into the hills than any of them had been before.   The patrol entered the town and again simply asked the locals if they had seen any Taliban lurking about.  Of course no one did.  As they exited the town, the Taliban, which the locals had no knowledge of, attacked.  The squad came under fire.   An artillery strike against the position gave them the cover to slink away.  OK, they didn’t slink, but they didn’t stand and fight, they didn’t attack the enemy position and they didn’t try to kill any Taliban.  That wasn’t their job; it was only to talk to the locals.

The soldiers are as brave as any, at any time in our history.  They would have willingly gone after the enemy and killed him.  In fact, they would have loved to act like real soldiers; however, no one would allow them to.  I will repeat, I do not know if this is a result of Obama’s ROE, or simply the high command not knowing how to win, or both.

That may sound crazy, but it is not.  America has not won a war since WWII.  I know everyone will claim how wonderfully we did in Gulf War One and with the removal of Saddam Hussein in Gulf War Two; however, neither was a complete victory.  Had Bush Sr. completed the job by removing Saddam the first time, there would not have been a need for Bush Jr. to finish the job ten years later.  And then Bush Jr. came within a hair’s width of total victory, and then Obama became President and gave it all away.  We are living at a time when Americans do not know how to win or how to be winners.

Our loser mentality began with the Korean War.  In that travesty we wasted 38,000 men in a war meant to do nothing more than retain the status quo.  President Truman was a man in a position way above his ability level.  Joseph Stalin ran rings around him, so in an effort to not get into World War III, Truman placed rules of engagement on our troops, for the first time in American history, that didn’t allow for victory.  General Douglas MacArthur was so furious that he got himself fired for insubordination.  General MacArthur was the last of the true American Generals who cared enough about his troops to place his career on the line.  Ever since he was fired every other Army General has quietly acquiesced to the President’s will; not that he isn’t supposed to, but a real general will stand up for his troops even if it costs him his job.

And then along came Vietnam.  President Lyndon Johnson used the armed forces in that Southeast Asia maelstrom as his toys.  Right from the beginning he never had plans to defeat the North Vietnamese; rather he wanted them to simply comply with his demands.  He didn’t want to unify the two countries; rather he wanted to maintain the status quo.  Again, American fighting men were dying because a useless politician wanted to maintain the status quo.  No victory was planned nor was it even contemplated.   The major difference between Truman and Johnson was that Truman was a humble man and Johnson an arrogant one.

Johnson wanted to control every aspect of the war.  The Air Force, whom he sent to bomb North Vietnam, was not allowed to destroy the enemy’s ability to kill the airmen.  It is the concept of air superiority, which eluded Johnson.  They were not allowed to destroy the airfields or aircraft on them, prior to the enemy taking off to challenge them on each bombing mission, nor the anti-aircraft guns and SAM missiles placed to be fired against them.  Johnson was so arrogant that each night he chose which targets would be bombed, regardless of what military importance they held.

In South Vietnam, our soldiers defeated the North Vietnamese Army and its surrogates, the Viet Cong, every time they met on the battlefield, yet the retreating Vietnamese were allowed to get away every time into Laos, Cambodia, or back into North Vietnam, without our troops being able to pursue them and eliminate the threat.  Again, Johnson was unable to grasp the military concept of eliminating the enemy.  By the time Nixon became President, there was no public support to accomplish any type of victory.  He came closest when he allowed incursions into Cambodia, Laos and the total strategic bombing of the north; but it was too little, too late.  That war cost America 58,000 men.  Again, none of our generals made any objections about the conduct of the war; for fear of being fired like MacArthur.

For the past 15 years we have been mired in endless warfare, with no end in sight.  Every fight we’ve chosen to engage in has been a failure in one way or the other.  In none of the wars have we had a clear path to victory nor a path to exit.  It is a nightmare that only a fiction writer could conjure in his wildest fantasies.  The rules of engagement have been nightmarish and more imposing than enemy bullets.

Yet, our generals say nothing.  I am beginning to wonder if any of them know how to plan for victory?  It has been so long since America has tasted it, that there are no living generals that have ever seen total victory.  They may not even know how to plan for it; as we have not had to do so in over 70 years.  Do any of them even know how an Army, Navy, Air Force or Marine Corps is supposed to run?  I fear that our commanding generals are more politician than warrior.  The high numbers who have sided with Hillary Clinton are shameful and an example of the politician general.  If she becomes the Commander-in-Chief, our soldiers will wear pink battle dress and our airmen baby blue jumpsuits.  And our generals will say nothing.

The long standing tradition of our military men doing what the civilian politicians demand has always had its limits.  Just remember that the politicians in the Continental Congress gave General George Washington permission to loot the farmers around him to supply his troops in the frozen camps around Valley Forge.  General Washington; however, chose to ignore them, knowing that doing so would lose the trust and good will of the American people, without which, the revolution could not be won.  There’s that word again, victory.  He disobeyed their orders, for a higher cause.

General Douglas MacArthur was the last general to publicly disagree with his Commander-in-Chief, and he was fired for it.  He was the last example of an American General standing up for principal.  Today, with the horrendous policies taking place in our armed forces, now more then ever, we need a general with enough intestinal fortitude to place America above his career.  It is time for a general to take fire for a change.

Joe Ragonese served in the U.S. Air Force from 1963 to 1967, working in command & control.  For the next 36 years he was a police officer, 35 of those years on the Cook County Sheriff’s Police Department (Chicago, Illinois).  During that time he went to college on the G.I. Bill.  Joe was a freelance writer until retiring in 2005 as a police detective.   Since then he has written a novel, “The Sword of Mohammad,” available at Amazon.com, about nuclear terrorism in Chicago, and publishes Generations the Magazine, a senior newspaper,(www.GenerationsTM.com).  His passion is military history.

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5 comments on “Taking Fire
  1. I saw an episode and was astounded. No bunkers or fighting holes No outpost, no wire. What the Fuck are they doing out there. That cannot be a combat unit. I was truly appalled and, now after reading this aricle, I think someone should be court martialed.

    • Jean, I too was appalled, to the point that this article was written. What I omitted was exactly what you said, absolutely no defensive positions prepared and no offensive patrols. What the heck are they doing there? Nothing but cannon fodder. Some commanding officers need to be court martialed out of the service for this travesty.

  2. Glad to see that after watching three episodes of camera footage you are an expert on a year long deployment.

    Since you were not actually a grunt and a chair warrior, I wouldn’t expect you to actually understand why a base is placed next to the only road in and out of the valley that led to our battalion HQ. Nor would you be able to consider that the terrain in the area would not allow an actual base to be built up one of the mountains, never mind the fact that getting to it with supplies would be next to impossible.

    We had an outpost, we had wire, and we had fighting positions on the base.

    We also sent out patrols everyday. That documentary is focused around one platoon and a very small part of their mission. Did you ever stop to consider that there were two other patrolling platoons from that base?

    Did you stop to consider anything rational, or decide to make a commentary based upon poor information, experience, and judgement in order to push what your actual article is about which is how Americans cannot win wars.

    Interestingly, I agree with some of what you have to say, but your inability to think beyond a few minutes of footage makes you seem incompetent.

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